Nerd or Normal?

You know the stereotype – the computer nerd. He’s (it’s always a “he,” right?), writes the computer code that enables the digital devices that we now can’t live without.

But we don’t want to meet him. He’s a young guy with no social skills who’s a loner who doesn’t want to have contact with others.

That’s pretty much the opinion that I had, and that’s why I was so intrigued by a recent New York Times article, “Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd.” Here’s part of what the writer had to say:

Interpersonal skills like collaboration, communication, empathy and emotional intelligence are essential to the job. The myth that programming is done by loner men who think only rationally and communicate only with their computers harms the tech industry in ways that cut straight to the bottom line.

The loner stereotype can deter talented people from the industry — not just women, but anyone who thinks that sounds like an unattractive job description. It can also result in dysfunctional teams and poorly performing products. Empathy, after all, is crucial to understanding consumers’ desires, and its absence leads to product mistakes.

Take digital assistants, like Google Home or Amazon Echo. Their programmers need to be able to imagine a huge variety of home situations, whether households with roommates or abusive spouses or children — as made clear when a child ordered a $160 dollhouse and four pounds of sugar cookies on the Echo.

“Basically every step is very collaborative,” said Tracy Chou, who was an engineer at Pinterest and Quora and is now working on start-ups. “Building a big software system, you could have dozens or hundreds or thousands of engineers working on the same code base, and everything still has to work together.” She added, “But not everyone is the same, and that’s where empathy and broader diversity really help.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.